Saturday, November 17, 2018

relationDips: condiments

Using the broadest definition of the word, a condiment is a substance, sauce or herb, (I'm going to include spreads as well) added to food to enhance its flavour. There is an unbelievable number of different condiments available. Take a look in your pantry and your fridge and you'll probably find numerous may also want to check the use by dates on them while you're there.

There are really obvious and popular examples like salt and pepper, tomato sauce, mayonnaise and peanut butter. There are also less well known condiments such as caramelized balsamic vinegar, sesame spread, sambal oeleck and mango, lime and chili dressing.

The knowledge and or use of these various condiments depends on individual taste and culinary daring. I tend to steer away from the exotic ones and purposefully avoid such unpleasantries as Vegemite and worcestershire sauce. But each to their own right?

Most people add something to their food to improve the flavour because they want good taste: an enjoyable food experience, not just another boring meal. Usually, it's not the case that the food is bad, but more that it is better with a condiment: more exciting even.

His mates were thrilled when he announced that he was getting married. There was an explosion of handshaking and backslapping as he made the announcement over a round of beer at the local pub. They offered hearty congratulations and well wishes to him, except for one of his friends who asked, with zero tact, why the hell he would do that. Why would he tie himself to one woman for the rest of his life?

The mood at the table soured immediately as the man's joy was challenged by this one dissenting voice. The man sipped his beer, gathering his thoughts, before he replied to his friend's question, "Because women are not condiments."

Disgruntled, the friend who loved women in the same way he loved food, walked away. The celebrations resumed in the wake of his departure.

Friday, November 9, 2018

A Dog's Eye: Vietnam part 3 (faith in elephants)

Every now and then the elephant driver would appear to get a little frustrated with the beast beneath him. He was sitting on the elephant's neck, one leg on each side with his knees cocked behind the pachyderm's huge ears. When it slowed down or stopped, the driver would bounce on its neck and nudge it behind the ears while repeating some words of "encouragement".

I was with my mother and my daughter on the elephant. We sat in a relatively comfortable howdah with an umbrella to protect us from the sun. I was not worried about this journey even though I didn't know where we were going and how long exactly we would be gone. The other two passengers were far less sanguine. We traveled down a road through a lakeside village, in Vietnam's central highlands, and then entered the lake down a steep "ramp". Occasionally, the water was up to the elephant's shoulders which left our feet just above the water line.

We wore life jackets in case of an accident, and I'll admit there were a couple of times when I thought we might be having an unplanned swim. After roughly half an hour we finished our ride and climbed down on to solid ground, connected to it by the security of our own feet.

It required an element of faith for us to ride this mighty creature. We had to believe that it would behave itself, and if it didn't, that the driver would be able to control it. Being a visitor in an overseas nation, and being able to enjoy that experience also requires some faith. Control ebbs away under the direction of locals who, despite some language obstacles, we trust. In our case, my wife was in complete control and what a champion she was. She did an amazing job of organizing things for us and protecting us from being ripped off. It was relatively easy to trust her. I mean I married her, so...

Nevertheless, there is a sense in which having to trust others makes us feel uncomfortable. Allowing others to make decisions for us, takes away our power, it violates our independence. For some people, the land of interdependence is a foreign country they have never visited- nor do they wish to. Taking risks with their safety based solely on the assurances of others is anathema to them.

How much is lost to a person who allows fear and/or a desire to stay in control rule their lives?

Sunday, November 4, 2018

relationDips: Vietnam part 2

My experience of Vietnamese people, both in Australia and in Vietnam, is that they are extraordinarily hospitable. As it is across Asia, it's all about the food. There's always a fine selection of food when you sit to eat at someone's home. Pho (beef noodle soup) may be a quintessential Vietnamese food, but we only had it outside of the home, in any number of ubiquitous little restaurants. Home meals, family meals, comprise a table full of plates and bowls filled with salads, meats, sauces and noodles. 

It's wonderful to look at, and participate in, such a amazing spread, even if many of the food items are unidentifiable, and some even unpleasant looking. Exotic? Nailed it.

One night, at the home of my father-in-law, I had another one of these great meals, and finished it well satisfied. I was relaxing with a cigarette after dinner when I was summoned next door to my new uncle's home...for dinner. I groaned a little inwardly.

I joined my father and law and uncle, and a hard rock loving friend of my uncle's whom I had met earlier that day. I joined them on the floor where another no less impressive array of food lay awaiting our enjoyment. Also, on this "table" was a large bottle of home made whiskey which was mounted on a little stand so as to make pouring easy.

And so began more culinary exploration, interspersed with drinking whiskey from small glasses ( a little larger than a shot glass). Before we drank we toasted, each time. Evidently if you take a sip, you must invite everyone else to drink with you. When we had finished eating, and of course I only picked at the food because I was not hungry at all, I stood to go outside for a smoke. My father in law insisted I stay, and so we smoked together on the floor of my uncle's living room, then stubbed out our butts in the food scraps.

Following the meal, we began to watch music videos and the aformentioned hard rock loving friend of my uncle and I worked our way through a fine collection of hair metal bands, mostly Bon Jovi. There was, quite naturally, singing and air guitars. Communication was very limited due to the language barrier, but we connected.

I don't drink whiskey. I never smoke inside. I prefer to sit at a table to eat, and I only ever have dinner once a night. Nevertheless, I had a really great time. When in Rome...right?

What is the appeal of this kind of activity? I think it's about building relationships. My wife was somewhat disproving of my involvement, but that was mainly due to the cigarettes. I was with her father and some other men in a family home. It was safe place, and I guess we were bonding. I wondered about the things we do to fit in, to gain acceptance, to not cause offence to others, to simply satisfy curiousity.

I've had some unsafe experiences in my life when my motives for involvement were far less pure than on this occasion, where my desire was simply to bond with the man whose daughter is now my wife. I've rarely encountered a better example of the intrinsic connection between food and relationships.